GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Competition is underway in spring practice to see which East Carolina football players can help strengthen one of the team’s most glaring weaknesses from a season ago.
The Pirates’ struggles with special teams — most notably with field goals and extra-point attempts — proved costly several times last year. Errant kicks, bad snaps and other blunders left Pirate coaches and fans scratching their heads time and time again.
As players compete to fill the shoes left by key contributors on offense and defense, ECU’s special teams players are also working to prove they can provide the group with some stability.
“They all understand what’s at stake,” ECU coach Mike Houston said Saturday after the team’s second spring scrimmage. “Our punting position, our snapping position, our holding position, our placekicker, our kickoff specialist, every single position is up for grabs.
“That’s why I told them today, I said, ‘I don’t want to hear anything about the wind or the weather today, cause it’s tough conditions out here. We’re gonna find out who can operate with a little bit of adversity.’ So I thought that was very positive.”
ECU kickers connected on four field goal attempts Saturday. Sophomore Andrew Conrad connected from 21 and 27 yards, junior Owen Daffer made a 37-yarder and sophomore Carson Smith made a 35-yarder.
Junior punter Luke Larsen tallied a combined 153 yards on three punts. His first attempt was a 65-yard punt that resulted in a touchback.
“We had live kickoff versus life kickoff return, we had four reps of that,” Houston said. “We had six live punts versus a live punt return. I don’t know how many field goals we got, but we got several. So we got all the situations in today from a special teams standpoint.”
Daffer and Conrad combined to make 13 of their 20 field goal attempts last season. Conrad was perfect on his 26 extra-point attempts, while Daffer went 20-of-25 on extra points.
Larsen averaged 40.4 yards on 44 punts last year. He pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line 14 times.